by Brenton Hedges •
It’s that time of year when the motivation to get out of a warm cosy bed early and be on the water at the crack of dawn waivers, even if ever so slightly. Admittedly, adverse weather in winter can pose a few challenges for southern anglers. Indeed, it can get bitterly cold in coastal parts of both Victoria and Tasmania, although thermal layering, a water/wind proof jacket, over-pants and a beanie generally provide adequate protection against the elements. In most instances, the greatest challenge is engaging a positive mindset, and that really shouldn’t be too difficult given there’s loads of big bream gathering in your local estuary right now!
Bream often school in big numbers during the cooler months. By the time winter arrives, most have moved away from shallow estuary flats and timber-lined banks in favour of seemingly barren deeper parts. Sounding is the key to locating the dense schools in open water; although it is worth commencing the search around more subtle fish holding features such as ledges, drop offs or sloping banks, adjacent to a prominent weed bank or mud flat. Sweeping bends, points, feeder creek junctions, patches of reef or gravel and depressions or mounds also attract schooling winter bream.
Following periods of heavy rain and flooding, expect bream to push further downstream towards the entrance of any given system. As the murky water clears with every incoming tide, bream will gradually move back upriver. If fortunate enough to find these post flood schools, they really can offer some mind-blowing action. The fish may bunker down and sulk for a few days waiting for floodwaters to ease and salinity levels to return to normal, but it won’t be too long before they’re on the lookout for a feed.
Vibrating metal blades are the perfect lure choice for this scenario and indeed whenever bream are holding deeper in the water column.
Designed to imitate tiny baitfish, prawns and shrimp or perhaps even broken pieces of shell, most blades range in size from 30-45mm in length and weigh about 3-6g. Due to a relatively fast sink rate, they’re ideal for working deeper channels and any open space where schooling bream are concentrated in depths of around 1.5-2m and maybe a bit deeper.
As with all forms of fishing, luring bream on blades requires some skill in terms of presentation. In comparison to other disciplines, however, the learning curve is far more achievable for beginners. For instance, winter breaming with blades generally takes place in wide-open spaces, such as the deeper sections of tidal estuaries, inlets, lakes and rivers, well away from snags, overhanging trees or other forms of obvious structure.
Therefore, the need for precise accurate casting and critical boat position is all but non-existent. This allows anglers to spend far more time concentrating on their technique and ability to detect hits, rather than stressing about maneuvering the boat or losing hardware. In addition, drifting in open water is far more relaxing and provides equal opportunities for all anglers on-board to cast at the prime real estate.
Depending on the size of the vessel, it may be feasible to fish 3-4 up reasonably comfortably, which is simply not an option when prospecting bankside structure.
When all the elements align, it’s possible to put together some monumental catch and release scores. With two or more anglers on board, double hook ups are surprisingly common, which is terrific sport for any season, let alone winter.
Technique and Tackle
One of the reasons metal blades are so effective during winter is that at this time of year, bream school deep and close to the bottom, which is where these lures do their best work. Even immediately following periods of heavy rain and flooding, when it stands to reason that most systems shut down for some time, blades continue to pull bream and plenty of them!
There is, of course, a little more to it than simply chucking out a tricked up hunk of metal, bouncing it up and down a few times and hooking up. The most basic retrieve involves casting down breeze ahead of a slow drift. As the blade descends, keep in contact by maintaining a slight bow in the line. If a bream bumps, nudges or intercepts the offering before it reaches the bottom, the line will flicker or twitch ever so slightly, which is your cue to set the hooks. If the blade makes it through the school without getting hit and comes to rest on the bottom, the line will relax. A short, but relatively fast upward rip of the rod tip, lifting the blade no more than 20-30cm, followed by a pause to allow it to return to the bottom, is the way to go.
At times, a double hop may elicit a more aggressive response. Similarly, 3-4 short sharp jabs, barely lifting the lure, but at the same time generating plenty of energy and vibration, followed by a pause, often attracts some attention. Most bream intercept a blade as it sinks (on the drop) either immediately after casting or in between imparting some action.
Others pick it up while it’s lying motionless on the bottom. A pair of split ring pliers and spare supply of needle sharp treble hooks help ensure even the most tentative takes remain connected.
Rods suitable for working blades require some power in the tip to get the lure up off the bottom and vibrating with energy, but enough give to cushion and protect the tiny hook holds. Look for a medium to fast action blank from about 2.1-2.3m in length. A small threadline reel spooled with 4-6lb braid or similar, connected to a rod length of fluorocarbon leader material of about the same strength is standard practice.
Scented soft plastics, such as worm imitations and single-tailed grubs, also offer an effective option for working over schooled up winter bream holding on sloping banks, ledges and deeper channels. Rigged neatly on a suitably weighted jighead, just heavy enough to make contact with the bottom, very little angler intervention in terms of rod action is required to get a wriggly tailed softie swimming enticingly.
A basic lift and drop, raising the plastic up off the bottom no more than about 50cm before allowing it to swim back down on a semi-slack line, is a proven technique. Similar to fishing with blades, hits often occur within the early stages of the retrieve, sometimes even on the initial descent. Again, watch the line carefully at all times and strike at any abnormal movement.
Chasing bream on light spin tackle with blades and soft plastics can inevitably lead to some impressive by-catch. Depending on the location, silver trevally, tailor, Australian salmon, luderick, estuary perch, dusky flathead and even the highly prized school mulloway are among the more likely to show up during winter.
Estuary Bite Triggers
Either side of high tide is widely considered the optimum time to target bream year round. Likewise, overcast or cloudy skies combined with a little surface chop are ideal for most estuary applications, irrespective of the season.
In addition, when a system is opened up to the sea (either naturally or through human intervention) after a lengthy closure, many species suddenly spring into hunting mode. As water levels decrease and all manner of food items, such as prawns, shrimp, worms, crabs, juvenile fish and many other morsels, are flushed out of the shallows, larger predators including bream, stake out the edges of deeper drop off points to feast on the smorgasbord.
Another factor to consider is the prevailing weather conditions and more specifically, wind and barometric pressure. Strong northerly winds generally coincide with an impending low-pressure system across southern parts of Australia, which often put fish off their food. Even so, the onset of a fast falling barometer can trigger a short burst of intense activity before the bite completely shuts down. Conversely, once the wind swings around to the southwest, signalling an approaching high-pressure system, more sustained activity can be expected.
Perception verses Reality
At times, severe or extreme weather is most definitely a legitimate deterrent; although perhaps the greatest hurdle is overcoming the negative perception that fishing through winter is miserable and unproductive. Indeed, once the winter doldrums take hold, it can be tough to break the cycle and adopt a more positive and confident mental approach. In reality, cold fronts and periods of wild weather often make way for calm sun-filled skies and what better way to spend a winter’s day than battling a few bustling big bream on blades.
Reel 100-2500 size
Line 4-6lb braid
Leader 4-6lb fluorocarbon
Soft Plastic 3-4”